Mines astronaut scholars

John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, Deke Slayton and Gordon Cooper were the Mercury Astronauts (I typed their names by memory, by the way). They were rock stars; household names (and still are in my mind). They were fighter pilots and test pilots.  These pilots symbolized the highest ideals of the American hero and the triumph of freedom over communism. They were selected from the best of the best American pilots. There is a certain mentality of fighter pilots and test pilots. They have determination, confidence in their flying ability and a will to succeed in the face of danger or adversity.  They have the ability to think clearly under tremendous pressure and react quickly. That is why these people were chosen to be the first American astronauts. To paraphrase an astronaut axiom; “No matter how bad the situation gets, you can always make it worse”. The point being: don’t make a bad situation worse by making the wrong decision or flipping the wrong switch or making the wrong control inputs. We wanted to send the best people (the ones most likely to survive) into the unknown new ocean of space.  And we wanted to beat the Russians to the Moon. And we did.  

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was created to foster desirable traits of astronauts.  They are: intelligence, ambition, self-motivation, high ethical standards, persistence, tenacity, adaptability, and a passion for science, exploration, and innovation.

As a result of Mines excellence in its various engineering academic and research disciplines, the school was accepted in 2017 as one of 40 universities with membership in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).  This is a non-profit corporation created by the Mercury 7 Astronauts in 1984. This organization awards scholarships every year to outstanding students who exhibit motivation, imagination, and exceptional performance in the fields of engineering, mathematics and natural or applied sciences.  Angel Abbud-Madrid, Director of the Center for Space Resources, was appointed as Mines liaison to ASF and continues to be in this role.

According to Dr. Madrid: 

“For its first year, Physics student Amanda Matheson was selected as Mines first awardee. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden came to Mines to award this first scholarship.  For 2018, two scholarships ($10,000 each) were awarded to Mines students Anthony Nagygyor (Chemical Engineering) and Connor Bray (Physics). It was an honor having Mines alumna and Ball engineer Tracy Copp, as one of the donors for the scholarships along with Orbital ATK and Robert and Linda Nowotny. This year, Brianne Treffner from Physics and Gabriel Adriano from Chemical Engineering became our most recent scholars. This year’s award ceremony brought Astronaut and Northrop Grumman Director of Propulsion Systems Charlie Precourt as the main speaker.  It was a pleasure to have Prof. Christine Morrison in the audience, the first ASF scholar in our faculty ranks.”

Before the award ceremonies, Mr. Precourt gave a summary of current advances in space exploration by Northrop Grumman as well as a fascinating video of a space shuttle landing he made from the view of the cockpit heads up display (HUD).  He also showed the vantage point of the cameras adjacent to the runway at the Shuttle Landing facility at Kennedy Space Center. It was difficult landing conditions, with a strong crosswind which required him to yaw the shuttle upwind such that he was pointed at the cameras adjacent to the runway.  In the space shuttle there were no go-arounds – the shuttle landed as an unpowered glider. He exhibited smooth flying skills under extreme pressure, and I think that is why he showed that film; to set an example of how to succeed in a challenging situation through training and old school piloting skills.

One of this year’s scholarship recipients, Brianne, explained:

“It has been a long road to Colorado School of Mines. I transferred here after taking my core classes at Red Rocks Community College and Arapahoe Community College.I participated in an undergraduate research program at Mines, while still attending community college. This joint project between the Mechanical and Mining departments exposed me to the culture at Mines while seeing how much the faculty cares and the effort they put in to helping their students succeed.

I would like to work on solving some of the challenges we are facing on the way to becoming a space faring species. Right now my senior design capstone, a sounding rocket payload for RockSat-X, is focused on how we can clean up all debris humans have left in orbit. While complex problems like this require the best of our abilities and knowledge as a species, they also give humankind the opportunity to showcase the very best of what our collaborative efforts can produce. It allows us to reach across the lines we have created to divide us to achieve larger goals.”

Her goal is an outstanding one, not only for her career but for space exploration in general.


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